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Five Considerations for B2B Research Success

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A version of this post appeared in B2B News Network.

There is a gap between communicators, marketers and sales teams within business-to-business companies. We all want to help our organizations grow and do great work. But sometimes different priorities and approaches mean sales, communications and marketing teams often do not speak the same language.

In my experience, these teams usually disagree on these types of questions: Which are our priority verticals? What’s the best channel to reach these customers? What’s our most effective call to action? What type of content are our audiences looking for? What do they think of our company vs. our competitors? Or my personal favourite: wait – who exactly are our customers?

There is only one way to sort out the overlapping opinions, anecdotes and points of view in B2B companies. Nothing brings people together like the insights, validation and proof of actual research. And the good news is that research has never been as cost-effective and easy to do as it is today.

I’m not a researcher. But I’ve worked with experts on enough projects to know how B2B companies can effectively develop insights that will get everyone on the same page.

Here are our top five considerations for business-to-business research success.

1. Who do we want to understand better – no really, who? 

It’s difficult and costly to measure everyone. So you can start by thinking, “who do we need to know more about? Are these people the right ones to tell me what I need to know? Will we be able to act upon what we learn from them, or is it just ‘interesting’? You get one type of information from your current customers, another type from prospects or churned/lapsed customers, and other information from your sales or customer service teams. When it comes to who you measure or survey, be sure to choose wisely.

2. Quantitative or qualitative?

What’s most important: getting a large group of people to give you a little bit of information to inform a persona or validate a concept? Or would you prefer more depth from a smaller group of people, who can be probed for more detail or with other questions in real time? Quantitative and qualitative research can both be incredibly successful, and in some cases it makes sense to do one before the other.

3. There are many paths to insight

It’s great to survey everyone from the ground up, but there could be so many other (less costly) places to get a picture of your customers’ behaviours and preferences. Consider secondary research like social listening and published studies before going custom with primary research. If you haven’t already, engage the vast amount of digital analytics you have from your website, social channels and CRM tools to paint a persona of your customer. Reflecting sources used by sales, marketing and communications teams will give everyone confidence in the customer profile you’ve created.

4. Beware analysis paralysis

Second only to perhaps a company’s intranet, nothing has the potential to become work-shopped, unwieldy and never-ending than an organization’s quest to gain a better understanding of their audiences. The first research project is usually the hardest, as everyone seems to come out of the woodwork with “one more question” or data point they’d like to capture. Don’t try to boil the ocean. It’s important to focus on a core set of key insights that everyone can make use of. After the first one’s in the can and everyone has seen the value, you can iterate and go deeper with future research. And do everything you can to avoid splinter or duplicate research by other teams unless there’s a very, very good reason.

5. Bring these insights to life across your organization

This is the last, and most important point. From the CEO on down, virtually everyone in the company can grow great things from the seeds of research. It can help align teams in one direction for annual or quarterly planning. Of course, the best research should uncover a fundamental insight that highlights a customer need, pain point or opportunity to differentiate your company through your brand, campaign or platform. But don’t just file it away. Some B2B companies measure all their employees (even R&D) by their net promoter score (NPS), as does our company through E2 scores. Beyond that, sales teams can present insights directly to customers to differentiate themselves with added value.

Ultimately, the more you merchandise the insights you generate and incorporate it into everyone’s day to day work, the better the ROI. That means more budget for more research, more integration and more hugs and high fives with your colleagues.

Rob Manne is a vice president with the Corporate practice in Toronto.

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